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P90X vs. Insanity Introduction
This comparison is likely going to piss a few people off, no matter what I may say. There’s a family rivalry between P90X and Insanity. Both programs have rabid fans who swear by them, and who will fight to the death anyone who dares to question their favorite workout program. Humans are such tribal creatures sometimes. We always have to bicker over the most stupid things, including our favorite home workout programs, or what type of diet we should be following (a discussion I’m not going to wade into anytime soon).
The X’ers and Insaniacs both lay claim to the title of “best” or “hardest” workout program. There can only be one winner, right? Not really. I’m giving myself away already, but like all comparisons, the outcome will depend on what your particular priorities are. My choice is based upon what’s important to me. Your views may be completely different, but that’s okay, because there is enough space in the world for many different workout programs. I’ve tried at least seven so far and I’ve gotten great results from each one.
The point of this comparison is not to determine whether P90X or Insanity is better. The point of this comparison is to help you figure out which program is better for you, based upon your preferences and what the programs have to offer. As objectively as possible, I will describe the strengths and weaknesses of both P90X and Insanity so you can make an informed decision about choosing between the two. I’ve completed both of them, so I know very well what they have to offer.
P90X vs. Insanity: Meet the Contenders
P90X is one of the top selling home fitness programs ever created. It’s been around for almost ten years, and until recently, has led the sales charts (guess which program dethroned it). P90X is one of Beachbody’s anchor programs, and Tony Horton is practically the face of the company. If I had to describe P90X in one sentence, I would say that it is a program that will help you achieve overall fitness by emphasizing, but not focusing on, resistance training. You will do weight training, but it is not the type that a bodybuilder or serious weightlifter would do. There are a lot of exercises using just your body weight such as pushups and pullups. In my opinion, P90X is not a true weight training program, but a total body conditioning program. To learn more about P90X, follow this link.
P90X has cardio training, but that is not its core strengths. Except for Plyometrics and Core Synergistics, P90X’s cardio components are un-hardcore. P90X also offers serious flexibility training. It has two workouts just for this purpose, Yoga X and Stretch X. In my opinion, these flexibility training routines are the most neglected and unloved in the entire P90X catalog, even though they can take your fitness to a new level.
Insanity is another massively popular home fitness program from Beachbody. It’s been around for almost three years now. It was formerly the little brother to P90X, but Insanity is grown up now and has overtaken P90X in sales. Like P90X, Insanity is a total body conditioning program. Instead of emphasizing resistance training, however, Insanity stresses high intensity interval training, which is a fancy way of saying Insanity is more about cardio conditioning. While P90X is 70/30 resistance to cardio, Insanity is 70/30 cardio to resistance. I’ve written an entire series of reviews which discusses in detail each Insanity workout. Read about them here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. Click this link to read the entire review series.
Resistance training is not Insanity’s selling point. While it is possible to gain muscle mass from doing Insanity, that is not what it is designed to do. More likely, you will simply appear more muscular because you have lost fat and whatever muscle you already have pops out more.
If flexibility training is important to you, Insanity might disappoint as well. I have complained that there is not enough stretching in Insanity, pre- or post-workout. While there are two “low impact” routines which have yoga moves in them, I don’t think that flexibility training is Insanity’s strong suit.
Round 1: Required Equipment
You only need a pullup bar and a decent set of resistance bands to do P90X. This may surprise you gym rats, but it is possible to achieve great results with just this much equipment. I actually did a whole round of P90X using only resistance bands just to see if my results would be any different than if I used weights. They weren’t. Many of the resistance training exercises such as pushups, pullups, and dips use just your body weight. You will need resistance bands to work your arms and shoulders and that’s pretty much it. Of course, weights in the form of dumbbells will probably get you better results in the long run, but they are not absolutely necessary. All of the P90X workouts include at least one fitness demonstrator who is modifying the exercises with resistance bands.
Insanity surpasses P90X in this area because Insanity doesn’t require any equipment at all. None. Nada. Zilch. Insanity is one of the few programs which only use your body’s weight for resistance. You can get an amazing total body workout with just 6-9 square feet of space and your body.
ROUND 1 WINNER: INSANITY. Without doubt Insanity is the winner of this round. If the lack of access to any fitness equipment is a limitation for you, then Insanity is the program. The only fitness equipment is your body. If you have some way to follow the program, you can do it anywhere. In this regard, Insanity is a flexible program that can be adapted in any environment.
Round 2: Fun Factor
This criterion is actually silly because it’s completely subjective. I only included it so I can talk about how fun both programs are. I did three rounds of P90X because it was fun and I never got very bored. I still remember every corny joke Tony Horton has told in the workouts.
I felt the same way doing Insanity. It is high energy, high volume, and high intensity. You really feel like you’re working out with Shaun T and the fitness demonstrators in the Insanity gym.
I enjoy physical challenges. Both programs are challenging so I have a great time while doing them. Is pushing yourself your idea of fun? Maybe not. All I know is that I have been able to work out almost EVERY DAY for over two years now. Most people don’t come close to having this level of consistency. A lot of it has to do with how fun the programs are. Because the workouts are fun, I manage to stay motivated.
ROUND 2 WINNER: DRAW
Round 3: Intensity of Workouts
This category may also seem subjective, but it’s not. A person who is physically fit will find both P90X and Insanity to be challenging. Having said that, I’m going to come out and say that Insanity is more intense than P90X. While the length of the workouts is shorter overall, the pacing is more grueling and demanding. The joke among Insanity grads is, “your workout is my warmup.” That’s true, because the Insanity warmups are notoriously difficult and can break your will to continue. Almost every Insanity routine starts off with a shock to the system. The shock doesn’t end until the workout is complete.
P90X, on the other hand, is no joke either. I know a lot of people who have thrown up after their first P90X workout, so it’s plenty intense for many. For this reason, both programs can be intimidating to newbies. (This doesn’t seem to have deterred this insane guy and this fearless dude.) In my opinion, Insanity is the tougher program. What’s my gauge? Me. Some Insanity workouts fill me with dread, especially the first thing in the morning. I can’t say the same for any P90X workout.
ROUND 3 WINNER: INSANITY. You’re free to disagree with me if you want, but Insanity is simply more brutal, relentless, and grueling than P90X.
Round 4: Length of Workouts
P90X can feel like an endurance contest sometimes. Almost all the workouts are about one hour each (not including the “optional” but really mandatory Ab Ripper X routine which is fifteen minutes long). The program’s emphasis is on general fitness and endurance. For that reason, the P90X workouts are long. The biggest offender, Yoga X, clocks in at over 90 minutes. When I don’t have enough time, I would shorten the P90X workouts by cutting out some exercises which are redundant or skip past the break periods.
Insanity is much more lean and compact. Most of the workouts run about 35-55 minutes. This is partly due to the fact that there is not as much warmup or cool-down. You will jump into the workouts right away. It’s also because the pacing is ridiculous. Insanity workouts are shorter, but the tradeoff is they are more unforgiving in terms of pacing. Unlike P90X, where Tony has time between breaks for amusing quips and jokes, Shaun T doesn’t play around.
ROUND 4 WINNER: INSANITY. One of the things I emphasize is this blog is fitness programs for busy hardbodies. I assume that you’re the same as me—someone who is juggling fitness with other important things in life such as a job, family responsibilities, and raising children. Time is a premium to me. That’s why any workout that respects my time, but is also efficient and intense, has my stamp of approval. Insanity is the clear winner.
Found 5: Length of Program
P90X is a 90 day program. Insanity is a 60 day program. I believe the reason Insanity is only 60 days long is because it is so demanding. All the jumping, hopping, and skipping you’re doing every day will take its toll. Your body will begin to feel a bit worn out at the end of day 60. Your joints, muscles, and flooring will eventually need a break.
Shaun T promises that he can transform your body in 60 days. I think this claim is accurate. Of course, that just means that in those 60 days, you’re going to have to work your ass off harder than you ever thought possible. That’s Insanity in a nutshell.
ROUND 5 WINNER: INSANITY
Round 6: Trainer Style
I know these types of comparisons are totally subjective and almost meaningless. Nonetheless, I’ll take the time to describe the trainer styles of P90X and Insanity so you know what you’re getting yourself into.
It’s no secret that Tony is a self-described “fitness clown.” His corny jokes are legendary. Tony’s stated goal is to make working out fun. He’s very good at his job because millions of copies of P90X have been sold around the world. You won’t forget at any time that you’re doing a very tough workout, but having a fun trainer who doesn’t take himself seriously can distract you from your pain and agony. This is a very good thing. As a Team Beachbody coach, I have worked out with him in person and he is exactly the same in real life (maybe even more hardcore because he enjoys pushing people). Through the force of his personality, he has changed the lives of countless people for the better.
Shaun T is a little different. He’s not about telling jokes. I don’t remember him cracking a single joke in Insanity. In fact, I have complained that he seems to take himself too seriously. However, after having met him in person and working out with him, I realize now that he is 100% committed to the idea of helping people, and that means pushing them beyond their limits. I have nothing but respect for him because it is not easy to do what he does (get people to get off their asses and work out).
I will say this about Shaun T—he’s a rockstar. When he enters a gym, he electrifies the place. I didn’t quite understand the Insanity craze until I experienced him doing his thing in front of a live audience. He works the room better than most lead singers of rock bands. The guy is charismatic as hell. I saw people around me who were pushing themselves in ways in which they had no business doing, all because Shaun T asked them to. That is the kind of effect he has on people. I’m glad he using his gifts for good instead of evil 🙂 You see some of that quality in the Insanity workouts.
ROUND 6 WINNER: DRAW. Aside from my apparent man-crush on Shaun T, you won’t go wrong with either workout program.
P90X v. INSANITY: Final Recommendation
What’s my final recommendation? It’s obvious from the points tally. Because P90X and Insanity are designed to produce the same results, general fitness, I can’t hedge. Although I love P90X because it was the program that helped me restart my fitness journey, I have to give my final recommendation to Insanity.
There’s a lot of advantages Insanity has over P90X, but the one that is most important to me is length of workout. There’s no getting around the fact that Insanity is a much more efficient workout program than P90X. With team Insanity, I don’t need to work out for 75-90 minutes each time to get results. I can get an amazing full-body workout in 55 minutes or less. The value that Insanity offers in time savings is unbeatable.
There’s still a big part of me who wants to recommend P90X. Here’s the reason. I enjoy resistance training more than cardio training. That’s why I made it a point to discuss this aspect of the programs early on. Some people get excited about cardio training and could not care less about hitting the weights. Others, like me, prefer weight training with a good dose of cardio in the mix. To such people, I would recommend P90X over Insanity because P90X offers a lot more weight training.
The ideal situation is of course a hybrid between P90X and Insanity. Many people, including yours truly, have done this. For cardio days, I turn to the Insanity workouts. For weight training days, it’s P90X. You’ll get the best of both worlds and the benefits of two different fitness programs. It’s no coincidence that most X’ers eventually try Insanity, and vice versa.
WARNING: My recommendations are with certain conditions. Namely, you must be in very good physical condition to attempt either P90X or Insanity (especially Insanity). These are advanced fitness programs. If you are a beginner, there are other home fitness programs in the Beachbody catalog that are more appropriate. You risk serious injury if you attempt to do workouts which are way beyond your current level of fitness.